Okay, everyone, how are you? How’s the back? Mine is better, although I’m not out of the woods yet. One of my big problems is that I have chronically tight hamstrings. Always did, from birth, I think. One of the drawbacks of having long legs, I guess. Love the legs (thanks for those, Mom!!), hate the tight hamstrings. When I was studying ballet as a kid, I used to hate those girls who could slide into a split like it was nothing. It would take me forever to warm up enough to do that — like, years. The upside is that I have strong legs, so I have been known to lift furniture and air conditioners without incident. Life is a trade-off, let’s face it…
A nice massage would be good right about now. And I got an invite to soak myself in a friend’s hot tub. I hope to be able to partake of both of those items in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, if massages and hot tubs are not in your immediate future — and even if they are — here’s the next group of exercises for repairing your relationship with your back. Think of it as a form of couples counseling. You and your back may start out disagreeing vehemently, but if you hang in there, you’ll both feel better in the end. At least, I hope so. Patience and persistence are crucial, because, unlike couples counseling, you can’t kick the bum out if things don’t work out. You’re stuck with that back, so you’re going to have to learn to live with the traitorous bastard. But then, backs don’t cheat on you and leave wet towels on the floor, so there’s an up side to learning to get along.
Just a few important points. So far, most of these exercises are stretches, but the last one in this group begins to cross into the realm of strengthening. Stretches are hard work, however, in the sense that you need to concentrate, follow the instructions faithfully, use common sense, and take your time. In some ways, it’s more difficult to stretch properly than it is to do strengthening exercises. An ideal stretch is one that allows you to relax in a stable position while you are lengthening the target muscles.
Muscles do not stretch instantly. This is very important. You need to take your time to allow the muscles to get the message (unless you’re one of those disgusting creeps who are double-jointed and can do splits at the drop of a hat). When you are instructed to hold something for 10 seconds, you need to count s-l-o-w-l-y, not blast through the count. You know, the ol’ “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, etc.” or any other word or phrase that makes you slow down the count. You could even throw in some cuss words. But whatever you do, DO NOT BOUNCE when you stretch. That can bring on another muscle spasm. Hold the position of the stretch firmly and steadily. If you are actually stretching, you will feel a pull on the muscles in question that may not feel entirely pleasant, I will admit, and may even sting just a teeny bit. What you are trying to do is go to the point where you begin to feel some tightness in the target muscles and hold that position for the count. Take deep breaths and try to relax with the stretch as much as possible. The next repetition will then take you a little further.
Those of you who have taken yoga or Pilates should know how this feels. It’s hard work to stretch well, and not totally fun, but you need to be consistent. Once a week will not cut it. The pay-off is huge, however, so keep your eyes on the prize. Always keep in mind, though, that sudden, sharp pain is NOT what you are supposed to feel. If you feel that, back off until it stops. Then try again more slowly and gently. Also, muscles that are warm stretch more readily than muscles that are cold. So, a hot pack beforehand — or a hot shower, or a massage, or a ten-minute walk, if you’re able to walk yet — will help a lot. And let me know if you have any questions.
Finally, unless otherwise indicated, start all of these exercises in the Starting Position, which is lying down, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the bed. Good luck!!
Now, don’t you just feel all smug and virtuous??
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